Shigella outbreak in European metropolitan areas: what you need to know!

At the moment there is an outbreak of bacterial infection shigella amongst bisexual and gay men in metropolitan areas in Europe. WINGS contacted Arjan van Bijnen from Dutch sexual health platform MantotMan.nl to find out more about shigella and what you can do about it.

Arjan van Bijnen

Arjan, what is shigella exactly and what are the symptoms?

“Shigella is a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea. It spreads through minuscule pieces of fecal matter which enter your mouth during or after sexual activities such as rimming; or you can get infected when you fuck someone, jerk off your cock afterwards, and then touch your mouth with your hands for example. Most people infected with shigella won’t develop any symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they appear between one and three days after having been exposed to a risky situation (anal sex). Symptoms include diarrhea, sometimes with blood in your stool, stomach cramps and fever. You can be sick for three to five days.”

What can you do about it?

“Usually you will just have to accept that you are sick for a few days. If you notice that it takes longer than five days, then the GP can prescribe you medication which works in most cases. There are strains of shigella that are resistant to antibiotics, so if your health is fragile or if you have an autoimmune disease and experience symptoms, you should also see your doctor. Make sure to inform your GP that you have been exposed to a risky situation (anal sex), because they won’t immediately think of a shigella infection otherwise. And if it turns out that you are infected, you should inform your sexual partners as soon as possible. Shigella stays contagious for almost a month, and your partners could keep spreading it unknowingly, especially if they don’t experience any symptoms themselves.”

Are there ways to prevent an infection?

“Shower with water and soap before you start having sex. Make sure to wash your private parts at an orgy before switching partners. Don’t stick your fingers in your mouth during or after sex. Don’t give a blowjob to a guy that fucked someone else seconds before and hasn’t washed himself. It is all a question of hygiene and being more aware of what you are doing during and after sexual activities.”

If you think you might have a shigella infection, MantotMan.nl advises you to visit your GP or make an appointment at your local STI clinic. You can find more information about shigella (in Dutch) here: https://www.mantotman.nl/nl/soas-hiv/alle-soas/shigella

Please be aware that if you have had unsafe sex and you start developing constant diarrhea after ten days or more, it might be one of the symptoms of an acute HIV infection. For more info and a symptom checker visit: https://www.hebikhiv.nl/en/

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